Getting old hits people differently. By any definition, I'm not "old"; 25 barely qualifies as approaching middle age. I still have all of my hair, I'm in decent physical shape, and my metabolism is still strong enough that demolishing an entire bag of skittles barely affects me. But as you get older, the biggest changes are never what you notice in yourself but what you see in other people. Some people you originally thought simple turn out to have more depth to them than the ocean. People you thought were invincible aren't, but they become indomitable which is the same thing, just more. Like liquor, the years seem to distill people down to the essentials of who they really are inside.
Growing up, my family was always healthy and active, with our family camping trips always involving hiking, kayaking, or some other strenuous outdoor pursuit. Sure, the Shook men had a propensity for rolling their ankles and eating more than was good for them but it never slowed us down with proper icing techniques and a full bottle of Tums. We went from Florida to Virginia, always on a different adventure and pushing ourselves to the limit, picking up skills and experience along the way. For 7 years, we went professional in our love of the outdoors by running a store with camping gear among other things.
The world hit a road bump early in my teenage years when my mom started having problems. At first, it seemed like a good kind of problem because she had tons of energy and could eat a chocolate cake and somehow mysteriously lose weight. Her high energy kept ramping up until her resting heart beat was north of 100 beats per minute and she knew something was really wrong. The diagnosis ended up being Grave's disease, or hyperthyroidism; an imbalance of hormones that essentially turbocharged her entire body but would cause it to burn out. She went in for treatment which was essentially to have her thyroid irradiated and take supplemental hormones in tablet form for the rest of her life. This was just the start, with subsequent problems arising that racked her body continually with pain and withered one of her legs so it has 30% less muscle mass than the other. My mom now walks with a cane more often than not and long hikes are out of the question, but despite all this she always has a smile and a kind word. She volunteers several days every week at the Bit of Hope ranch in Gastonia, helping under-privileged kids and children with emotional problems enjoy the outdoors and hopefully find some solutions to the problems that keep them down.
Dads, at least the good ones, are always your super hero. They're invincible, and you always are sure that they can beat up that snot-nosed kid-down-the-streets dad if push came to shove. My dad was more than tough, he was an adventurer and the guide for all my expeditions. Backpacking, fly-fishing, hunting, shooting, rock climbing, hiking, wilderness survival...I was introduced by the master that was my dad. Looking back, I have yet to figure out how he could work 60+ hours a week, every week, and still somehow have the energy to not just put up with but actually pay attention to me and my 2 siblings. Several years into me working for him at the outdoor store my family owned, he started having some problems on his legs where some cuts wouldn't heal. Looking back, it seems obvious that it was the start of diabetes, but at the time we honestly thought it was mercury poisoning after a kayak demo day on a lake with known mercury issues. Over the next few years, it was finally diagnosed as something as simple as high blood sugar, but not before the neuropathy had irreversibly damaged the nerves in his feet making them super sensitive to cold as well as extended periods of standing. He's not sure if a winter camping trip will ever be a good idea or if an extended backpacking trip is even possible. A minor heart-attack 2 years ago was a second wake up call, forcing him back into shape by walking and getting back outside. He's getting back into fly-fishing again, and taking short backpacking trips in Wilson's Creek whenever he can. He also acts behind the scenes, bringing connections and people together to get things done and making it seem like it was all a happy coincidence when it really wasn't.
You're never sure whether you'll have a rival or a partner in crime when it comes to brothers. Add in an age difference of 10 years, and it's hard bridge the gap that divides two people who are similar and different at the same time. My brother was born at 9lbs 10oz, and within 24 hours of being born was put into the ICU for a respiratory problem where he simply wasn't getting enough oxygen. The only oxygen tank they had was for premature babies, and to this day I still remember seeing my younger brother wedged into an oxygen tank that was much too small with the lid duct-taped shut because it's the only way they could keep it on. Even though he started life as a veritable giant, he was always soft and kind-hearted and scared of almost everything. Claustrophobia from the oxygen tank haunted him for a long while, he was always afraid of being alone, and white bread terrified him due to the texture (any psychologists who'd like to, please email me an explanation of that one because I've been waiting 15 years and still haven't gotten one). Now at 15, he's a 2x NC State Judo Champion and stands at 6' tall and 205 lbs; because we're close to the same weight class, we actually train together several nights a week in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Recently, he's discovered he really likes backpacking and since he's the only person I know who (a) can actually keep up with me walking and (b) agreed to some of the crazy schemes I have for hiking 30+ miles in a day he's now my defacto backpacking partner. It also helps he's as strong as an ox and I silently sneak my gear into his pack when he isn't looking.
At this point of reading, I'm guessing that you're thinking, "This is really sweet, but what the heck does this have to do with the outdoors?". Wilderness, adventure, just being outside is something that has defined my family since the day I was born. It's a lens that I use to focus on who we are, what we boil down to. Shared experiences are part of the glue that keep people together, and how we enjoy our time together. This Christmas, if you don't feel like you can "get into the spirit" of things don't feel ashamed. It's an arbitrary day on the calendar, one that mass media and marketing has all but ruined for any of the good intentions it may have meant. My recommendation to you is to ditch the tree and head into the forest, forget wrapping up that tie and instead find a river to tie on a fly, and more than anything else don't let anymore time slip by before you have another adventure with the people you care about.
Just remember that even if the adventures become less adventurous with age and the passing of years, the time you spent together is the greatest adventure you could ever have. Give the gift of time this year to those you care about. It will mean more than any gift card ever could.
Have a Merry Christmas, and I hope to see you on the trail in 2016.
Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.